Seniors also learn online, as OLLI and one-day university zoom in


By David Jarmul, Next avenue Donor

“Guys, this is a great experience,” Alan Teasley said with a laugh, as he began his online adult education class on Stephen Sondheim with a song by West Side Story, thanks to Zoom videoconferencing technology. Over the next hour, the former high school drama teacher shared songs and music videos from the legendary Broadway songwriter and lyricist.

A few hours earlier, another speaker on the same site was talking about opera. Others spoke of the Super Bowl, “fake news”, politics and prisons.

Hundreds of older viewers clicked on the 22 free lectures that the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina hosted after the coronavirus pandemic forced it to cancel the last few weeks of her in-person spring classes.

(Read all Next Avenue Covid-19 Coverage aimed at keeping older generations informed, safe and prepared.)

Why Taking Online Courses Now Is So Attractive

“I took almost all of the free online courses,” said Diane Hundley, OLLI member. “I could learn something that I didn’t know anything about. It was wonderful. And what else was I going to do? It wasn’t like I could go and buy shoes.

“Online learning is much easier than it was just a few years ago. “

Another OLLI member, Mimi Krystal, said: “The lack of intellectual stimulation during my forties was a real problem for my mother, who is almost a hundred years old and has poor vision. OLLI helped her and her neighbor sign up for an online course on Lincoln and one on Rodgers and Hammerstein, which they love.

The Duke program is among the largest of the 124 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes campus programs supported by the Bernard Osher Foundation of San Francisco. Almost all of them have made efforts to expand online no-credit offerings for the more than 200,000 people they serve across the country, mostly retirees.

“It’s making lemonade when you have lemons,” Marion Jervay, OLLI told Duke vice president.

By going online, OLLI and other such programs allow older students participate regardless of where they live or whether they are worried about leaving home.

“There are even more opportunities to join an OLLI community than before [the pandemic]”said Chris McLeod, director of OLLI at Duke.

It turns out that the appetite was huge.

“We didn’t know what to expect when we started moving online. We thought two hundred people might be interested, ”McLeod said. “We immediately heard from five hundred and fifty people and the number rose to one thousand three hundred and fifty in two and a half weeks. “

The teachers, the courses, the cost

OLLI programs vary by type of instructor and cost. Some lecturers are current or former professors; others are recognized experts, often with interesting backgrounds. For example, a recent online OLLI course at Duke on the Super Bowl was taught by Jim Steeg, a former NFL executive who handled this extravaganza.

Typically, students pay a modest membership and class fee. Before the pandemic, Duke’s in-person OLLI program typically charged an annual membership fee of $ 45 plus $ 40 or $ 70 for courses lasting four to six weeks. Its online offerings started with free courses, but charged $ 70 as course organizers and students became more familiar with Zoom.

Course topics also vary widely, and some courses are specifically related to the pandemic.

The OLLI program at the University of California at Berkeley has hosted its online courses ranging from Mohandis Gandhi to the search for alien life. At the University of Cincinnati, OLLI topics include fashion, women writers, and the Vietnam War. The University of Michigan has a Covid-19 inspired class on vaccines and Colorado State University teaches how the coronavirus crisis may affect the November election.

How online learning got easier

Most of the new online courses are on Zoom, which many mature students have become familiar with during the pandemic.

“Online learning is a lot easier than it was just a few years ago,” McLeod said. “I love our members’ willingness to try things they never imagined. I remember one session where one of our members didn’t mute and we heard her say to her husband, “We did! “

During OLLI online courses, students can sometimes ask teachers questions through Zoom’s chat feature.

Longtime OLLI member Richard Ellman, who lives in a retirement community in Durham, is among those who have adapted to the new way of learning.

“The more I use the technology, the easier it becomes,” he says. “I miss being with other people in the classroom and being able to share. There is less exchange than in a regular classroom. But given the alternatives we have now, I like it. “

Miss human contact

Another member, Margaret Brill, also misses the human touch of the in-person courses. But she adopted the online version and taught two courses herself. “I don’t need to drive or park, and there are recordings of lessons for several days in case I miss one,” she said.

Steve Thaxton, who runs a center at Northwestern University

which links OLLI programs nationwide, says all but a few now offer courses online, up from just 25% a few months ago. “It propelled something that was a low-to-mid-range priority absolutely to the top,” Thaxton said.

The new version of OLLI courses is one of many popular and growing online options for older learners. Others include TED Talks, MasterClass, The Great Courses, Coursera, EdX, and Skillshare.

What’s new at One Day U

There is also a new online education and entertainment program from One day university. Before the pandemic, its primary business model was attracting adults typically 50 and over to attend live events across the country (typical cost: $ 119 or $ 179) featuring renowned professors from major universities. “Our market is made up of people who think hearing a presentation from superstar presenters is fun, just like going to a Broadway show or a museum,” said Steve Schragis, director of the company.

The coronavirus outbreak has forced One Day U to cancel its scheduled programs and quickly go online.

It now has a new subscription service ($ 7.95 per month) with five live lectures per week and recorded lectures and the ability to send questions to professors through Zoom’s chat feature. And starting June 1, there will also be a premium service of $ 19.95 for One Day U members ($ 39.95 for others) with Zoom classes limited to 25 students, to facilitate Q&A with professors.

“The good news is there is no longer a line to enter the bathroom now,” Schragis jokes.

One Day U and many OLLI programs plan to continue offering online classes even after resuming their regular programs.

Their leaders see online learning as a way to reach more people and help their older students stay connected even if they can’t attend in person.

McLeod says, “Even if they have had a hip replacement or are no longer able to drive, they can still connect and take a class with their beloved OLLI instructor. “

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